Last year, we told you about Iowa’s interest in launching digital driver’s licenses, a move that might begin the phasing out of plastic licenses currently in use nationwide. On Wednesday, the state announced live testing of what it calls the Mobile Driver License (mDL) in a number of settings, but that testing will be limited to hundreds of Iowa Department of Transportation employees.
The license appears on your smartphone, and looks much like a normal driver’s license, including a photo, date of birth, address and license expiration date. In a demonstration video, which uses an iPhone, a quick screen swipe flips the license to its back, revealing a bar code and the class of the license.
But the feature that really makes the mDL special is that it allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to instantly update any information that may change, such as when a driver reaches the age of 21, or when a driver is hit with restrictions to their license.
Officials can check the authenticity of the mDL by using MorphoTrust’s (the creator of the system) verification app, which acts as a mobile watermark reader. Using the verification app, a police officer can check the identity and license details of a driver without touching the driver’s phone.
However, the notion of marrying one’s smartphone to one’s identity raises the question of privacy in regard to the data on your smartphone. Although the police officer wouldn’t “need” to touch your smartphone to read your license, if such a system went mainstream, it seems likely that some police officers might ask to handle a person’s smartphone to get a closer look if phone-to-phone scanning problems arise. (If you’ve ever scanned a QR code with your smartphone, you know just how tricky mobile scanning can be.)
Although the Supreme Court recently ruled that police need a warrant to search your smartphone, making your smartphone a part of the process of checking your identity seems like fertile territory for official intrusions into your device that might not otherwise occur with a plastic identity card. But for now, questions around that issue are still far in the future, as the Iowa pilot program is still just an early test in a single state.
“Although we’re not yet ready to release the mDL for customer use, the lessons learned in this pilot will demonstrate the use case for our mDL Application to be offered in the future as an option to all citizens across the state,” said Paul Trombino, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, in an emailed statement.
“[The pilot program may also] help guide other states who want to launch similar digital identity programs. I firmly believe this is an important first step in creating a one person, one identity, one credential opportunity for our customers.”